Wednesday, June 20, 2012

City vs. suburb – Are there troubled youth in Oak Lawn and Woodlawn?

On the surface, it sounds nice. A new joint effort by Chicago municipal and Cook County governments to create a program that will help find summer jobs for troubled youths.

The Cook County Board gave its approval Tuesday to just such a venture, supporting a payment of $145,000 by the county toward the Chicago city government’s One Summer Chicago program.

YET THERE ARE those people who are wondering if county officials were too quick on the draw to offer their support for a joint venture. Because that particular program is meant to keep city kids busy during the summer months.

And the documentation provided to government officials seems to indicate that all that was happening is that the county was going to provide some extra money for this city-based program.

What about all those suburban kids? Which really doesn’t fit the old stereotype any more.

Anybody venturing into a place like Calumet City these days (I pick that town because I lived there as a kid, and it's the place I identify as being from -- even if I haven't lived there in years) might not see much of a distinction between that south suburb and an inner city neighborhood (particularly if their own impressions are too anchored in old “Good Times” reruns and not reality).

AS FOR THE difference between suburban Oak Lawn and the Woodlawn neighborhood?

There are some. But there are young people all the way around who could use some help in finding something constructive to do.

If it turns out that the county board has supported an expanded effort that will erase the lines between city and suburb, then perhaps this vote they took (all “ayes” and no “nays,” although some county commissioners found reasons to grouse) will mean something.

Otherwise, I can’t help but wonder if the county got hoodwinked. Suckered. Played. Or whatever other term you prefer to use for being conned out of some cash that could have gone toward something better.

THIS HAD THE potential to turn into a classic “city vs. suburb” brawl at the county board. Except that the political reality is that so many city districts spill over into suburban areas.

There are few political people who are purely one, or the other.

I’m sure many of these commissioners can claim to have benefitted the city portions of their districts, even if the benefits to their suburban portions aren’t quite as clear.

For the record, the program in question is meant to benefit about 178,000 young people who have been labeled “at risk.” I’m not sure exactly how that determination is made.

BUT IT SEEMS to imply youths who could wind up causing some trouble during the summer months – if nothing positive is put before them.

That is why in some cases the “something positive” is a summer job – usually something with some minor physical labor that will put them out in the summer heat. But that we hope they will someday recall as an activity that “built character.”

Although I remember my own summer jobs from back when I was that age, and I say all that character-building is “bunk.” I did it for the money. I’m sure these young people will say the same thing.

The part that really has me wondering is the fact that not everybody who gets included in this program gets a job. Some people will be put into a “recreational program” of sorts. An “opportunity,” as described by county government officials.

MAYBE IT WILL be some sort of fun activity they will remember fondly.

Although a part of me thinks it sounds way too vague. And it makes me appreciate the logic behind Commissioner William Beavers, who was the lone county board member to vote against this funding.

“What’s an opportunity?,” asked Beavers, while shrugging his shoulders.

Nobody could give him a straight answer.


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